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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report
Some of these applications have led to privacy concerns, and although most voter registration data are generally public information, there are sometimes restrictions on making such information broadly available. For example, some states restrict the sale or use of voter registration lists for commercial solicitation purposes. Concerns have also been raised about the safety of battered men or women if the contact information contained in their voter registration were to be disclosed publicly, and some jurisdictions have enacted special protections in this instance.
THE BASIC REQUIREMENT FOR STATEWIDE VOTER REGISTRATION DATABASES
HAVA Section 303 requires each state to establish and maintain a “single, uniform, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list” that contains the voter registration information for all eligible voters in the state and requires that the VRD be electronically accessible by any election official in the state. But although HAVA provides some criteria for developing and maintaining this database, and the Election Assistance Commission has issued its 2005 Voluntary Guidance onImplementation of Statewide Voter Registration Lists,6 the states still maintain a degree of discretion in how to conform to HAVA. Such discretion, exercised in different ways by different states, inevitably leads to various problems and inconsistencies within and between statewide voter registration databases.
States have taken different architectural approaches to building systems to meet the centralized voter registration list requirement. Under the so-called top-down approach followed by many states, state election officials maintain a single, unified database and local election officials provide the state with the information needed to update the database. Some states instead opted for a bottom-up approach, in which local jurisdictions continue to maintain their own registration lists but also provide periodic updates to a separate statewide system. Other states have adopted a hybrid architecture that combines elements of both the top-down and the bottom-up approach. Kentucky and Michigan had already implemented statewide voter registration databases before the enactment of HAVA, but most states have had to implement new systems to comply with HAVA.
Does HAVA mandate a particular architectural approach to the implementation of VRDs? This issue has been argued both in the affirmative and in the negative at length, and the committee takes no position on this question. HAVA does require that the control of the VRD be maintained at the statewide level. However, the nature of the decision making used within a state to determine eligibility for inclusion in the voter registration list is at least as important as the particular technical architecture used. As a result, any assessment of whether a system conforms to the requirements and expectations of HAVA should consider the locus of decision making regarding an individual’s eligibility to vote.
It should also be noted that although guidance regarding database structures or system attributes has been promulgated through the EAC’s Voluntary Guidance on Implementation of Statewide Voter RegistrationLists, the guidance remains voluntary, and the agency charged with enforcing HAVA—the Department of Justice—has not issued guidelines or regulations of its own. Thus, state election officials may proceed at their own risk that some design decision might be challenged later as not being HAVA-compliant.